By the time my father is eighteen,
my grandmother had been psychiatrically committed five times.
My grandfather would pack her in the car –
the bags under her eyes heavier than those in the backseat.
She never learned how to drive herself, you know –
the bridges would have been too tempting.
Sometimes, she didn’t know whether the voices telling her
she was worthless were coming from her heart or her husband –
we were told you sacrifice one for the other. We were told –
Italians are passionate people, you know –
Someone screaming at you is the ultimate form of flattery.
We were told –
The best mothers are selfless.
The best mothers deny themselves.
The best mothers make sure the fridge is stocked before
they lie down for three days. My grandmother underwent
shock treatment, over and over again,
to try to steady her stomach to return to a home
where she was expected to fill everyone else’s –
despite herself running on empty since she was a teenager.
At the end of her life in the hospital,
the doctors stopped giving her the benzodiazepines
that had allowed her to leave the house for the last 60 years.
She screamed at the top of her lungs: “please just let me die.”
What we didn’t realize was she had been screaming that for 60 years.
We couldn’t save her from the trappings, from the bounds,
of the kind of generational suffering that we thought
would go away once she arrived on the boat.
The only thing we could do for her was allow her the ecstasy
of a temporary loss of consciousness through repeated shocks
to her brain. While she had to beg and grovel to access that ecstasy,
I honored her memory
by losing consciousness every few days.
I lapped up opiates, drank until my body revolted,
slept with strangers who sent shock waves through my psyche,
ate all the things she never allowed for herself
before ripping open my esophagus to dispose of the pleasure –
you know, the kind that makes my bloodline recoil.
As I laid in a facility at 20 years old,
itching, itching, itching at the imaginary bugs crawling all over me
in the midst of withdrawal –
withdrawal from temporary loss of consciousness –
I screamed at the top of my lungs: “please just let me die.”
Mee Ma -I tried to break the cycle, I really did,
but the bridges nearly got me, too.
NOT ALL MEN
You see – you wouldn’t need to protect me
if you weren’t all trying to kill me.
To the man who boldly exclaimed that rape
statistics were exaggerated and women lied –
we all lie – before gently and tearfully pulling
me aside to talk about his own PTSD –
I’m so sorry you’ve been failed
by the same system I have. I’m so sorry your tears
haven’t been captured in the statistics –
But I can’t be expected to hold you up, to comfort you,
to affirm you, when you’ve pinned me
to the ground while your friends trampled me.
Toxic masculinity is a form of victimhood, I imagine –
But you said you don’t believe victims.
The most insidious thing is you know
you don’t have to kill me to make me dead.
Gina Antonia is a poet, performer, and social worker currently based in Seattle, WA after having lived and accumulated stories in Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. She has previously been published with Read or Green Books, and performed with Inspired Word NYC, the Nuyorican Poets Café, and the Barbed Wire Open Mic Series. Her writing largely focuses on trauma, identity, liberation, and shame.